By Mark Buckley
Support for Sinn Féin has increased dramatically in the opinion polls ahead of the Irish general election to be held on 8 February . The surge reflects the overwhelming opposition to Brexit across the whole of Ireland, and the growing realisation that the Fine Gael government will not stand up for Irish interests against the Westminster government, or Brussels.
All parties and opinion polls on both sides of the Irish border oppose Johnson’s Brexit. Because it is so damaging to Irish trade, jobs and living standards, as well as presenting a threat to the Good Friday Agreement, the recently restored Assembly at Stormont, unanimously passed a motion against the Withdrawal Agreement.
The Brexit effect can be clearly shown in the dramatic shift in the polls for the general election in the Republic. There have been four opinion polls since the outcome of the British election was known, and with it the increased risk of a hugely damaging Brexit. The table below shows the results of the main parties before and after the recent British, Brexit election.
Average of party support in the 4 polls before December 12, 2019 and in the 4 polls since, %
Source: calculated from Wikipedia Irish opinion polls for 2020 election
In effect there has been a net swing of 6 points from Fine Gael to Sinn Féin, although it is extremely unlikely that there have been many voters who have switched from the main party of the right (Fine Gael) to the standard-bearer of Irish unification and opposition to austerity (Sinn Féin).
Of course, these are only opinion polls not the election itself. As we have seen elsewhere there will be a concerted attack on any party which threatens to end neoliberal economic policy and fights for social justice.
Even so, the surge in Sinn Féin’s support has led to clashes with the state broadcaster RTÉ who effectively banned Sinn Féin from the leadership debate. Meanwhile the leaderships of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are so determined to exclude and delegitimise Sinn Féin that they are forced into political contortions over whether and how they would work with each other in the strong likelihood that no party will achieve an overall majority.
These are also extremely important developments for this country. The British political situation will be in turmoil for some time come as the question of who its main trading and commercial ally will be, the US or the EU, is not yet settled. In that turmoil the interests and views of the overwhelming majority in Ireland will clash with those of the British government on a fundamental matter. To avoid the worst effects of Brexit, the question of Irish unification will once more be posed. Sinn Féin’s stronger support is surely a pointer in that direction.